After 700 years, British Hallmarks are being struck in other countries?

How did that happen?

**News Update**

At the end of April 2018, the British Hallmarking Council announced the outcome of the Public Consultation and their decision on the form of hallmarks struck outside of the UK.

The following was published on the BHC website:

Detail of outcome

This document sets out the Council's response to the consultation on overseas hallmarking.

The Council has decided in principle that hallmarks struck overseas by UK Assay Offices should be distinguished by way of a special mark. Discussions are now taking place with Assay Offices as to what form that mark should take and once agreed it will be implemented within 1 year.

Detail of feedback received

We received over 120 responses, including 9 from our 15 official consultees.

View Consultation Outcome

This outcome re-affirms the original position of the Government and the Assay Offices that offshore hallmarks should be different to domestic UK hallmarks.

At the moment, the only UK Assay Office affected by this change will be Birmingham Assay Office who have an Indian company (AnchorCert India) conducting assay and hallmarking in Mumbai for precious metal goods destined for sale throughout the UK and EU.

Birmingham Assay Office have indicated their desire to include an Anchor symbol in the overseas hallmark 'in some shape or form' and we expect the agreed mark to be a somewhat different Anchor than the historic form used in Birmingham, plus an additional symbol to denote 'India' or 'Offshore'.

We would like to thank all those who contributed to this debate and helped correct an error that the believe would have fundamentally damaged the standing of UK assay and undermined the added value of our historic hallmarking.

Since 1300, the UK has had compulsory Assay Hallmarks struck on items made of precious metals such as Gold and Sterling Silver. Without a recognised and Government sanctioned Hallmark, it can't be sold as silver or gold in the UK.

Everything from rings and jewellery to tableware carry the distinctive marks we are all familiar with. Where would any episode of Antiques Roadshow be without someone picking up a piece of silver and immediately be able to tell who made it, in which year and by which City's assay office it was struck?

In all that time, the marks have remained fairly consistent and a set of traditional British Hallmarks are immediately recognisable across the world.

Enshrined in Law, our Hallmarks are an historic survival and part of our shared heritage.

In 2013 the British Hallmarking Council (a semi-autonomous body, funded by the four UK Assay Offices) sought a change to the Hallmarking Act to allow them to open assay offices overseas. This was driven by commercial factors, including demand from importers to be able to strike UK hallmarks in the country of manufacture and a desire to compete with the Dutch Assay Office who planned a similar strategy in China.

During the consultation process and in the Government Response Document, Safeguard a quality assurance agency said, 'All such marks should also be clear and easy to understand, relevant and intelligible. SafeGuard also felt there should be a clear distinction between UK-struck and offshore-struck Office town marks. Mr Xxxxx thought that protection would be compromised if UK hallmarks were to be applied offshore.

It was therefore unanimously agreed by the Assay Offices, the Government and others involved in examining the proposed change, that offshore (overseas) assay marks should be clearly distinguishable from those used in the UK.

In fact, all four assay offices designed special marks they intended to use on items assayed by sub-offices located in other countries.

In 2015 Sheffield Assay Office opened up a sub-office in Malpensa, Italy. In July 2016, Birmingham Assay Office opened up in Mumbai, India and we believe a further overseas office is planned in Jaipur.

British Hallmarks

The hallmarks being used in these overseas locations are the same as those struck in Birmingham and Sheffield, using the same City symbols and assay marks.

How did this happen?

British Hallmarks

Mumbai or Birmingham? How do you tell?

British Hallmarks

The failure of the British Hallmarking Council to issue the planned guidance to clearly set out the differences between onshore and offshore hallmark symbols has resulted in a gap between the Government's intention and the actual delivery. The changes to the Hallmarking Act simply stated that the offshore hallmark had to be 'approved' by the British Hallmarking Council. Hence lacking the required guidance, the Assay Offices duly applied to use marks that consumers and retailers would not be able to distinguish from domestic assay hallmarks.

High volume overseas manufacturers are of course delighted. They can now manufacture jewellery and silverware overseas and have it struck in another country as though it had been assayed in the UK at one of our ancient assay offices. Then import it into the UK or another country.

Birmingham Assay Office has recently announced that in its Indian operations it will use the Birmingham anchor in an upright rather than prone position. However, as the Birmingham Assay Office strike the anchor symbol in both prone and upright positions in the UK and the hallmarking information which has to be displayed in all retail jewellers illustrates the Anchor in a upright position, we do not believe that this constitutes a different hallmark.

We have since seen correspondence that indicates that the Government has written to the BHC stating that 'the use of the town mark abroad was not in the spirit of the amendment to the Act'.

After 700 years of being struck solely in the realm, we believe that this will undermine both the status of and confidence in traditional UK Hallmarks. The potential for wholesale 'passing off' of items as being assayed in the UK is obvious.

In September 2016 in a similar case involving the Dutch Assay Office using its marks in China, the judgement of the European Court of Justice stated:

'the Court finds that a Member State may in principle, in the present state of EU law and outside the cases governed by an international agreement, consider that hallmarks affixed in the territory of third countries do not offer a level of protection of consumers equivalent to that guaranteed by hallmarks affixed by independent bodies in the territory of the Member States.'..'.... a Member State is entitled, in connection with the fight against fraud undertaken in order to ensure the protection of consumers in its territory, not to allow its own assay office or offices, or other bodies which that Member State may authorise to affix its hallmarks to precious metals, to affix those hallmarks in the territory of third countries.'

In response to widespread objections within the trade, negative consumer opinion and intervention by the Government, the actions of the BHC and Assay Offices are being reviewed:

"At its meeting on 10 October 2016, the British Hallmarking Council considered the issue of hallmarks being applied by the overseas sub-offices of UK Assay Offices. The Council decided that, in order better to inform its decision, it should engage in a consultation exercise with stakeholders regarding a proposal to distinguish hallmarks applied overseas from those applied in the UK and to issue guidance accordingly. Work is being done by the Council to identify relevant stakeholder groups and it is envisaged that a decision will be reached on overseas hallmarks in early 2017 following completion of the consultation. In the circumstances, the Council extended until then interim approval to the Birmingham Assay Office to apply the vertical anchor mark in its sub-offices in India."

The UK silversmiths and goldsmiths are making representations to the Government that only UK struck hallmarks should carry our traditional symbols and overseas hallmarks should be different.

Want to know more?
Here are some documents that explain what was discussed and intended when the Act was amended.

Legislative Reform Office (LRO) document

Government response to the consultation on proposals to amend the Hallmarking Act 1973 to enable offshore hallmarking by the UK Assay Offices by means of a Legislative Reform Order

PDF Download PDF

Explanatory document

By the National Measurement Office, an Executive Agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Word Download Word Doc

Public Consultation

On proposals to amend the Hallmarking Act 1973 to enable offshore hallmarking by the UK Assay Offices by means of a Legislative Reform Order

PDF Download PDF

Impact Assessment Document

Offshore Hallmarking by UK Assay Offices IA No: BIS1017

Word Download Word Doc

Hansard debate in Westminster

Legislative Reform (Hallmarking) Order 2013

PDF Download PDF

Draft Order

Laid before Parliament under section 14(1) of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 for approval by resolution of each House of Parliament

PDF Download PDF

Survey Results

See the results of our consumer survey about UK Hallmarks

Website Visit website

Hallmarking Guidance Notes

Practical guidance in relation to the Hallmarking Act 1973

PDF Download PDF

You can of course make your views known directly to the British Hallmarking Council:

British Hallmarking Council Secretariat
Geraldine Swanton (Secretary)
No 1 Colmore Square
B4 6AA

Telephone: 0121 214 0455

Or write to your MP:

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